There are two ways to look at the RSS’s rather bizarre turns and twists over the issue of reservation. It is either seriously handicapped by the lack of sense of timing or it is too indifferent about the political prospects of the BJP.

Take a look at the timing first. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat calls for a review of the reservation system when the BJP is thick into a critical election in Bihar, a state highly sensitive in matters of caste. Political opponents, so far defensive, latch on to it and virtually turn the election on its head. JD(U) boss Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Yadav rake it up in rally after election rally, leaving BJP strategists struggling for a response. The denial from Bhagwat – he spoke about it in the Dussehra rally – and the RSS – it tried to explain that the chief actually didn’t mean what he said — comes in small, insignificant tranches, hardly affecting the new campaign narrative that has already settled in.

The BJP tried to dissociate itself from the remark. Senior leaders came out and declared that the RSS chief’s views are not the BJP’s views. Yet, given the symbiotic relationship between the two organization, it hardly finds any takers. Desperate to change the discourse, the BJP’s mascot and star campaigner Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to resort to a lie, rather a half-truth. He claimed that the the Nitish-Lalu-Rahul Mahagathbandhan is trying to ensure a separate quota for the minorities (read Muslims) at the cost of the backward castes. It’s not known yet whether it has had any impact, but the fact he had to fall back on something like this makes it amply clear that Bhagwat’s remark has hurt the party badly.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. AFPRSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. AFP

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. AFP

Now, three phases already gone and the fate of the parties nearly sealed, the RSS decides to make amends. “Concept of reservations is an article of faith for us, we are not against it,” it says. Clearly, it comes too late in the day. The damage is already done.

Coming to the other point, do the RSS and the organizations loosely affiliated to it really give a damn about the BJP? The recent developments involving fringe Hindutva outfits make the answer obvious. One has to be blind and deaf to the reality to deny that the killing of rationalists, the unsavoury incidents involving beef, the messages increasingly conveyed through threat and coercive means and the general brazen disregard of the law by the fringe groups have created an atmosphere of panic in the country. Filmmakers, writers, artists and scientists maybe overreacting by either returning awards or writing appeals, but it’s hard to deny that the intolerant, regressive forces have become bolder in recent time.

Who’ll bear the brunt of all this finally? The BJP, of course, since it has to go back to people for votes at the end of its tenure, not the RSS or the fringe. The latter have already managed to alienate a lot of cross-section goodwill that the Narendra Modi-led government had in the beginning. They have completely overshadowed all the good work of the government this far and started denting its image. If they are allowed to proceed unchecked they might end up causing the defeat of the BJP in the next general election.

Curiously, neither the party nor its apologists in the intellectual circles seemed to have grasped the long-term import of the current developments. If the party loses the Bihar polls, the political opposition to it will be far stronger than it was before. It will cash in on the several social conflicts the fringes have opened up so far. Both would pretend to believe that the reactions happening in different pockets is the handiwork of people opposed to Modi.

The approach is amazing indeed! Why link Modi to the vandals all the time? Does it do his image any good? Does he even appreciate it? Going by his response to intolerant activities, the answer is no. If only his so-called supporters or bhakts realised it. From the way the latter has been behaving, it’s obvious that they have no sense of responsibility towards the government or Modi.

That leaves us with the big question: does the Right believe it’s far more important than the party or government? If that’s not the case, then the RSS should be more mindful of the BJP’s interests.

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Bhagwat’s quota comments show that RSS really doesn’t care much for BJP’s interests